Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Declaration of Thanksgiving

Both "Thanksgiving" and "traumatic" begin with the letter T, it seems for good reason. Ever seen the movie "Home for the Holidays?" Well, there are strains (and I do mean strains) of my family in there. But through thick and thin (make that extra thick and extremely thin), I have spent EVERY Thanksgiving of my life with my parents, haven't missed one yet, though the thought of missing (or more accurately boycotting) has crossed my mind. So it is a charged holiday and not only for me but for many, apparently for MILLIONS. Why? Because it is a holiday invested with deep emotions and longings that get exposed or lost or both in all the activity and high anxiety. American families are a far-flung and splintered bunch, and they're reunions are not often low-key, much less seemless. Anyway, after some years of not making a Thanksgiving statment, I decided I had to this year, and just an hour before lunch was to be haphazardly served (or more like offered), I steered clear of the minefields to take a little solace sitting in my car, and like the Gettysburg address Lincoln scribbled on an envelope, I hurriedly jotted down some words on little pieces of pocket-sized notebook paper, not time for editing, much less REVISION. And no turning back.

The heart and sould were so lacking this year, and yet I was so in control of my own absorption of the tension and even the blows, I had to do something to put a little heart back into it - and to play up my newly fresh role as the Dalai Lawrence of the clattering clan.

Gathered round, pre-roast beast, here's what I read aloud to the family gathered at Thanksgiving in the old house on the Campbell Walker farm in Tin Top, Texas:

I propose that life is about virtue - and that Thanksgiving is about of the basic virtues, one of the basic attributes of healthy and honorable people. And that virtue is gratitude.

Some years ago, I read a wonderful book titled "How to Want What You Have." The author said that life is about three things above all: paying quality attention, expressing compassion, especially to those with whom compassion is a challenge - and that third thing, gratitude, showing gratitude.

And so I am grateful to be alive. I thank my parents and family for helping to bring me this life and for helping me to be on this path - not necessarily on a path of their chosing but a path I have learned to cherish and to love.

I thank my friends for the quality attention and knowing compassion we share reciprocally and at least somewhat respectfully.

I thank myself for living a life of fascinating ideas, inspiration, honor and growth.

This year, I have been penniless and proud, scared and brave, depressed and elated, humbled and heroic.

I have learned to live many days as if each would be my last. And recently, I came up with a pet phrase to express my progress. Now, when someone asks, "So how are you doing?" I can say I have found personal peace and satisfaction. Each day, this way, is a trial and a triumph.

In his book "Man's Search for Meaning," Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said that the only thing that is inalienable to each human being is his or her attitude. I can now take full responsibility for mine, for my attitude. And my attitudes are ofttimes at least influenced by all sorts of virtues - other attributes essential to "wanting what you have."

Openness and honesty top this list as always have, being central as they are to the Golden Rule. No secrets, no deception. Then comes that favorite of the Dalai Lama - kindness, the most basic building block of the honorable life. I am thankful for every kindness I receive and every kindness I offer.

We each want honor and want to feel we deserve to honor ourselves. And many of us are brave enough to wish to and strive to honor others, some even when the challenge to do so is frightening and feels extremely risky.

I give thanks today and now every day to the virtues I work to live by - grace, kindness, patience, acceptance, clarity, wisdom, freedom, choice and bravery.

My thanks to all who aspire to this quest and who make their ways along this journey.

Thanksgiving Day, 2005


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